No. 30 BYU falls 5-3 in WCC Tourney opener to Gonzaga


STOCKTON, Calif. (May 26, 2016) —Three solo homers were all No. 30 BYU baseball could muster in a 5-3 opening round loss to Gonzaga on Thursday in the West Coast Conference Championships.

Keaton Kringlen, Bronson Larsen and Eric Urry belted solo home runs in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings at Banner Island Ballpark, but it could not offset a 5-0 deficit to the Bulldogs (34-17).

Gonzaga pitcher Brandon Bailey threw a complete game, striking out a career-high 17 batters to improve his record to 9-3. Fellow tri-champion BYU (37-16) fell behind 2-0 in the third inning off a pair of bloop pop doubles to left field.

"Brandon Bailey simply overpowered us tonight," BYU coach Mike Littlewood said. "We didn't make adjustments at the plate and that resulted in 17 punchouts. The little things cost us in this game. We lost a fly ball, fell behind a couple hitters and Mike (Rucker) had trouble fielding a ground ball back to him and that was the difference in the game. We need to get back to the park early Friday and show our true character."

Cougar starter Michael Rucker had retired his former team in order in the first two innings in front of an audience that included over 30 pro scouts and repeated that feat in the fourth, sixth, seventh and eighth innings, but was tagged for his first loss of the year with an 11-1 record.

Those third inning shallow pop doubles to left field were costly. The first by leadoff batter Joey Harris was lost in the lights and night sky, landing out of nowhere between shortstop, third base and left field.  Harris scored on Sam Brown’s double which bounced out of the glove of sliding Eric Urry. Brown then scored on Jeff Bohling’s gap double.

Bailey fanned two Cougars in the first, three in the second, three in the third, three in the sixth and two in the seventh to stymie BYU.

Kringlen, the WCC Freshman of the Year, helped BYU avoid a shutout with his one-out homer in the seventh.  Larsen swatted a towering homer off the fair pole in left field from the first pitch offered in the eighth frame. Urry knocked his leadoff homer to right field, a spot known corporately as “Jackson’s Rancherita Back Porch.” 

The three homers equals BYU’s three total home runs in as many tournament games in 2013 when the Cougars hit a combined three homers by Jaycob Brugman, Bret Lopez and Kelton Caldwell. Dillon Robinson hit BYU’s only homer in the two tourney games of 2015.

Rucker threw 117 pitches, coming on strong in the later innings after giving up three more runs in the fifth, starting with an error as he attempted to field a roller off the mound. The loss was only the second of Rucker’s BYU career against 16 wins.

Bailey meanwhile scattered six hits, the only pair coming in the fifth inning when Kringlen and Daniel Schneemann led off with consecutive singles, but were stranded.

BYU faces an uphill battle through the consolation bracket, starting Friday with a noon PDT game against Pepperdine (28-23), who lost to tri-champion Saint Mary’s 8-7 in 11 innings in Thursday’s tourney opener. A win for the Cougars pits them in a 7:30 p.m. PDT survival game Friday against the loser of Saint Mary’s-Gonzaga.